Blair speech to renew focus on public services

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will try to draw a line under the cabinet reshuffle row tomorrow with a speech making clear that he will not back off from radical reform of Britain's public services.

In a move aimed at kickstarting a summer of campaigning on voters' main concerns, the Prime Minister will declare that reform is essential to give the poorest in society the same chances in life as the better off.

The message, that the choices offered by specialist schools and foundation hospitals are central to social justice, will delight New Labour modernisers worried by the departure of the cabinet minister Alan Milburn last week. It is also intended to underline Mr Blair's desire to be seen to be focusing again on domestic issues after the war on Iraq and disputes over the European Convention.

With party strategists acutely aware of voters' scepticism about the Prime Minister's globetrotting, ministers will be employed over the summer recess to campaign ruthlessly on the public's priorities of health, education, crime and asylum.

The campaign will run until the next Labour Party conference and use the first two-week return of the Commons in September to send out the message that the Government is hard at work on delivery.

The past two summers were remarkably quiet for ministers, with a natural lull in 2001 after the general election and internal squabbles within the Conservative Party dominating 2002.

But with the general election possibly less than two years away, Downing Street understands that the next few months are crucial to preventing an image of drift that brings down most governments.

Some MPs have claimed that the loss of Mr Milburn - after the departures of Stephen Byers and Peter Mandelson - has left Mr Blair looking worryingly exposed in the Cabinet.

Mr Blair will travel to the EU's Thessaloniki summit in Greece later this week and fly to China and Japan later this month. He is already committed to a roadshow to sell the merits of the euro.

However, in his speech to the Fabian Society tomorrow, Mr Blair will aim to reassure his most loyal followers that his passion for domestic reform remains undimmed.

The speech was being worked on throughout the weekend, a measure of the importance attached to it by Downing Street spin-doctors, who are keen not to repeat the bad press surrounding the "botched" reshuffle.

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